Saturday, May 23, 2009

Malawi inaugurates president for second term

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) 22/05/2009

President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi was sworn in to a second five-year term Friday after a landslide election victory, and he immediately reached out to his vanquished opponents.

With most of the votes counted, Mutharika won 66 percent of the vote. He vowed to continue with the reform policies that have overhauled the economy and helped the nation of peasant farmers become self-sufficient in food. He also said he would continue the battle against corruption that has endeared him to Western donors.

«Corruption remains a big challenge for our development,» he said. «I shall continue to fight corruption because it is evil. Corruption in whatever form or shape is an enemy to growth and prosperity because it robs the poor and denies their legitimate right to development,» he said. «For this reason the anti-corruption campaign will continue to intensify.

The anti-graft drive contributed to his bitter fallout with his mentor-turned-nemesis, former President Bakili Muluzi, who hand-picked Mutharika as his successor in 2004. But Mutharika dumped the party nine months into office, accusing it of blocking the anti-corruption campaign.

Muluzi and several former ruling party leaders are currently answering fraud and corruption charges involving millions of dollars. Muluzi was barred by the constitution from running for office, and instead backed veteran opposition leader John Tembo, who was close to Malawi's late dictator Hastings Banda.

Muluzi attended the inauguration ceremony, but Tembo boycotted it and said the elections were rigged. Foreign observers said Tuesday's poll was generally well run. Mutharika, a 75-year-old former World Bank economist, appealed to his rivals to work with him. The feuding has frequently paralyzed government business and led to allegations of coups and assassination plots.

«I appeal to you to let us leave our differences behind and open a new chapter for dialogue and reconciliation. Let us work together with a common sense of purpose for the good of our nation,» he said.

Muluzi on Thursday offered an olive branch to Mutharika, endorsing his apparent victory and offering support when it was clear that Tembo was losing.

«I particularly welcome Dr. Muluzi for finding time to attend this function. This is the way things must be,» said Mutharika.

The 60,000-capacity Kamuzu Stadium was packed, with the official blue party color of Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) everywhere. DPP supporters sang «Moses Wa Lero,» describing Mutharika as a «latter-day-day Moses» for revolutionizing agriculture. Once dependent on foreign charity and plagued by malnutrition, Malawi has become a net food exporter, thanks to programs to improve irrigation and to give subsidized fertilizer to subsistence farmers.

Even so, the former British colony remains desperately poor. AIDS has left an estimated 1 million children missing one or both their parents _ a predicament highlighted by Madonna's high profile adoption efforts.

Mutharika's running mate Joyce Banda, became the first female vice president in Malawi's history.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, Zambia's new president Rupiya Banda, and Armando Guebuza of Mozambique attended the ceremony.

Mutharika ended on an upbeat note. «The next five years will indeed be exciting for Malawi as it will provide with new opportunities for growth, new investments and new hope for Malawi,» he said. «I personally believe in my country and in my people.